Seven Pounds (2008)

Penny said

Seven Pounds was as intense as I thought it was going to be. I needed a massage after leaving the theatre…I still wouldn’t mind one now. Don’t see the late show and go home. Make sure you have someone to debrief with after…not necessarily because the subject matter is so disturbing, but because the “place” the movie puts you in as you become engrossed in the film is not necessarily the place you want to be in before you go to sleep (at least not me).

SPOILERS (minor, but Reid should definitely stop reading):

This was a very good movie, but I was bummed because I figured out the “secret” within the first 15 minutes of the movie…then I doubted myself…then I realized I was right even though it was kind of far-fetched.

Will Smith is good and that is saying something, because I expect him to be good. There is a tension within him that hovers tenaciously like a shadow–always present even when the light seems the brightest. Rosario Dawson is also good. Her character is more than just a counterpart/foil for the main character (but she also makes a good counterpart/foil).

Do you think I would like Seven Pounds? The metacritic score was pretty low (36). Here’s a quote from A.O. Scott, the Time critic, “The most transcendently, eye-poppingly, call-your-friend-ranting-in-the-middle-of-the-night-just-to-go-over-it-one-more-time crazily awful motion pictures ever made.” Then again, the metacritic score is be no means gospel for me.

I do not know if you would like Seven Pounds. I am much more confident you will like Slumdog Millionaire. I do not have a desire to call my friend to rant in the middle of the night about this movie, though. The best I can say is it is kind of an acquired taste?


One thing I forgot to add to my “review” is about some of the choices the director made in shooting some scenes. I didn’t really like the hand-held shaky stuff and I guess it was to add to the “realism” and perhaps rawness of the feelings, but it just kind of made me sick. Some were also odd shots (like behind Will Smith’s head while he’s walking) with part of his head in focus and the rest out of focus, then sometimes part of his head not focused and what he is seeing is in focus. When the DVD comes out and the director explains her choices and what she was trying to do with these (I’m calling them odd for now) shots, I will probably say, “Oh my goodness! That’s brilliant!” But for now, I’m sticking with “odd choice.”

Seven Pounds (2008)
Dir. Gabrielle Muccino
Starring: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Barry Pepper, etc.

This is the type of film my brother would like, although I can’t predict whether this one will work for him. Grace would probably like this, too. I think Don would like the concept, but I don’t know if he’ll ultimately like the film. Seeing how Mitchell and I disagreed about Sith’s performance in Hancock, he may love this. I’m not sure about everyone else. Larri didn’t care for it, as she found it boring, and, at a times, it was strangely boring. Oh, I don’t get A.O. Scott’s reaction to the film, and I wished he explained it in his review.

If you plan to see this, I recommend knowing as little as possible.

Ben Thomas (Will Smith) is an IRS agent and a very troubled man. He’s contacting various people, but we’re not really sure why. What a lame description. But I’m trying to give you as little as possible. As I mentioned I found the film boring, which, when I think about it now, is kinda strange. There’s a part of me that feels I should not have found it boring. The film has a mystery that you see solved. I’ll go into that later. Penny mentioned the film was intense and she needed a massage, and I understand why she said that; some of you may feel that way (especially Grace), but I didn’t really feel that.

I’m surprised that Penny liked this film so much even though she figured it out in the first fifteen minutes. That’s like enjoying The Sixth Sense even though you figure out the ending in the first fifteen minutes. Not that you can’t enjoy either film if you know the ending, but I think it would take away a lot from the enjoyment.

Why didn’t this film work for me? I’m a little puzzled by this myself. In some ways, I knew that Ben was trying to atone for something that he did pretty early on, and I wonder if that had something to do with it.

Penny mentioned that she liked Smith’s acting. Here’s where I have to disagree, and I think this may be a reason the film was boring and didn’t really work for me. To get to the point, I don’t think Smith doesn’t do anguish really well. The anguish seems forced, unnatural; it’s not seeping out of him. I see the acting. If you ask an amateur actor to play a troubled person, you see the person trying hard to show the audience that he or she is troubled. That’s the way Smith played it. Also, Smith has a limited way of showing this anguish. (Btw, I felt the same way about Smith in Hancock.) I really like Smith as a lead actor. He’s charming, likable and can even be an effective tough guy. But he can’t do the tormented soul very well. I just didn’t feel for him like I did for someone like Nicholas Cage’s character in Leaving Las Vegas. There are some similarities in the film. Both characters have a one way trip down and nothing is going to prevent that. Both try to find some sort of redemption or comfort along the way. But where I totally cared about the main characters in Leaving Las Vegas, I don’t think I cared about Smith’s character to the degree that was necessary.

However, I did care for Rosario Dawson’s character. I agree with Penny that she did a good job, and I want to talk about her performance. I don’t think her performance is the type that gets Awards because she doesn’t create this original character or doesn’t give a performance whose difficulty doesn’t draw attention to the role. She’s just a normal person, but she does a really good job of creating a real, normal person. (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner’s performances in Juno were in a similar vein.) Well, maybe not so normal, as she is a beautiful, not just physically, but internally as well. She’s intelligent, witty and just a decent person. Her scenes with Will Smith are terrific, which may surprise some because there isn’t any obviously spectacular acting or super dramatic moments. Most of the scenes are pretty ordinary, but everything from the way she delivers lines and the timing of them and her reactions; her facial expressions–just spot on realistic and natural, depicting a range of emotions and attitudes: seductive and alluring; vulnerable and scared, angry. The beauty, her physical and spiritual, and her down-to-earth nature just shine through in quiet, subtle ways. I see a star here–especially in a romance. The female lead ina romance has to make the guys falls in love with her; she can do that big time. If she can find the right role, she’ll kill in it. Brando said something like if you see really great acting, it’s not. And Dawson’s performance is the flip side of that statement. Her performance is not the type that people will say is great, but it really is. At the same time, I wouldn’t tell people to run out to the theaters to see this performance; I wouldn’t consider it one of the great performances, but it’s just really terrific acting all the same. She should get a nomination at least, but I don’t think she will. Smith’s one-note playing of anguish in these scenes are just not connecting with me. And his moves from this anguish to enjoyment and even love in these scenes are not smooth, but awkward.

There is another good performance that probably won’t get attention either because the character and her situation is so cliched. I’m talking about the scene where Smith goes to Connie Tepos’ house (Elpidia Carrillo). The filmmakers do a really good job in this scene with Tepos. Her reactions to Ben’s offer is totally believable. The dialogue, acting were spot on. Usually a scene that I sense something false sticks out, but this one sticks out for just the opposite reason.

Another actor I like is Barry Pepper. His acting is OK in this–although I think he might have been better as in the Ben Thomas role; he could do anguish a lot better, I think. Pepper is an underutilized actor, imo; at least I haven’t seen him in a lot of films. I think he could be an effective lead, and he seems like he has some considerable acting chops.

So I still haven’t answered why this film felt flat to me, besides my lukewarm reaction to Smith’s performance. Here are some ideas that I’ll throw out there: maybe what was missing were the conversations of Pepper and other friends trying to convince Smith not to end his life. Some kind of extraordinary deal or circumstances would have happened to convince Pepper to agree to help Smith, and resign himself to his good friend’s suicide. I’m too tired to continue, so I’m going to stop there.

One last comment about Penny’s remark about the odd choices. I didn’t notice any of this at all. One explanation is that I’ve watched (recently) some films with more “extreme” choices, so perhaps that’s why I didn’t notice these things.

I saw Smith on Letterman last week, and they agreed they really couldn’t talk about the movie. The clip they showed was the vegetarian dog-feeding scene, which is a poor representative, but what else were they going to show?

—> SPOILERS <— First, my own response, and then some responses to your responses, because I think this film lends itself well to discussion, although unlike Penny, I could have gone right home to bed. It is difficult not to like Will Smith. He has a charisma and likability that go a long way toward being forgiven his acting flaws. He can act, but even when he’s not up to the material, it’s mostly okay. Kinda like Kirsten Dunst, ‘though she lacks the luminosity Smith brings to a film (Reid’s use of that word in describing Cher in Moonstruck has it stuck in my head for some reason). Rosario Dawson is TERRIFIC in this film. It would be so easy for her to play this one way, to simply react to the lines Smith gives her, but she does more than just hit the ball back; she has a plan and knows where to hit the ball so that Smith either has to respond to HER delivery, or (as he usually does in their early scenes) let the ball go. You know that scene in Ben’s car, when Emily begins to ask him questions about himself? She asks a question, he responds with silence, and she responds to his silence with a facial gesture. She does this often in these scenes, so that if you were only listening to the film and not watching it, you might think it was Ben who’s steering these dialogues, but they are much more dynamic than that, and I think it takes some serious acting chops to pull this off the way she does, because some of these expressions catch you off guard, like even though this character is close to death, she’s got a lot of fight in her still. Great Danes are kinda like that, too. A huge dog with a serious face like that can stand absolutely still and FORCE you to respond in some way, with very little outward effort. I want to see this film again just to take notes on Dawson’s acting. She does deserve a supporting-actress nomination! A last thing about Dawson’s performance: She is a beautiful, hot, incredibly sexy woman who is willing to contort her face in very unattractive positions and to let the makeup people really do a number on her countenance. It seems to me, as I have mentioned in the past, that too many beautiful actresses seem unwilling to look bad, but the willingness to serve the role in this way is a good sign that an actresses is confident in what she can to. Susan Sarandon and Meryl Streep leap to mind. I think you can add Rosario Dawson to that list if she proves in the future that she’s got those kinds of chops. I didn’t figure it out exactly in the first fifteen minutes, but I got the gist of it, and in the flashback scene where we see young Ben with his father and brother at the Monterey Aquarium, looking at “the most deadly creature in the world,” I knew exactly what was going on, because I was trying to figure out why he needed the jellyfish in his motel room. I was at first judgmental of Ben’s allowing Emily to get to know him and to fall in love with him, but I wonder if maybe this character needs this as the final motivation to do what he does. It is because of his love for her that he goes through with the plan, I think. A 3- to 5-percent chance might sound like surmountable odds if it’s someone you just like, but not if it’s someone you love. I have to say that even though the last moments of Ben’s life are pretty much just playing out what everyone already knows is going to happen, I was really affected by the scene showing Emily’s pager going off. This film didn’t make me cry, but that pager’s beeping really moved me. I disagree with Reid and Penny both that figuring out what’s going on in the first fifteen minutes of the film is disappointing. In The Sixth Sense, unless someone told you ahead of time that there was something to figure out, you never would have thought that, so you would have simply enjoyed the movie as it played out. On the other hand, I saw that film already knowing the “something to figure out,” so I watched it a little differently, and it wasn’t bad seeing it that way either. With 7 Pounds, the movie makes it pretty clear from the beginning that there is something to figure out. Unlike The Sixth Sense, the film doesn’t work on two levels, one knowing the secret and one not knowing the secret. 7 Pounds, for the first half of the movie, is ALL about trying to figure out what is going on. I find this kind of maddening and I got impatient with scenes that either didn’t feel like they were helping me figure out the secret or only repeated what I’d already figured out. It was like being in a math class where you already know the math but the guy in the seat next to you needs it explained a few extra times. Figuring out what Ben is going to do early in the film relieves you of that tension; you know where it’s going, so all you have to do then is watch how the writers, actors, and director make it happen. I agree and disagree with Reid’s assessment of Smith’s ability to portray anguish. I agree that his anguish in this film is pretty flat; it’s one note that he finds and repeats: a furrowed brow, a curled lip, a distant look. He did that better (’though perhaps because the script called for less) in The Pursuit of Happyness, but at least it wasn’t the whispered quiet acting Reid hates so much. That would have been worse. There is very little subtlety to Smith’s acting in the scenes that require the heaviest emotions, but I wonder how many actors today can really pull that off anyway, if put into the situation Ben is in. I could easily have predicted that Penny would like this film, but although I no longer try to predict if Reid’s going to like a film, I did expect him to like this much more than giving it a 5. While I was watching 7 Pounds, I was reminded of What Dreams May Come, another film where the main character must make a difficult choice for someone he loves. I hated, hated, hated, that film because I thought it was gross, ugly, and evil. Reid liked it because of what it said about the power of the Robin Williams character’s love. I expected this, a film with a much more plausible storyline, to tap into Reid’s passion so that he could at least find in Ben Thomas a character who overcomes a great deal, including love, to bringing his love to the ultimate expression. I wasn’t as moved by that aspect of it because I have believed for years that love sucks, but Reid’s not there, thank God. So that puzzles me a bit.

1 Response to “Seven Pounds (2008)”

  1. Reid

    Mitchell’s post is the type I love to read in these threads. You get what he agrees and disagrees with–which is helpful to people who have not seen the film (as long as it’s not spoilers)–and it’s also interesting to read. The post has some interesting insights, too, like this one:

    With 7 Pounds, the movie makes it pretty clear from the beginning that there is something to figure out. Unlike The Sixth Sense, the film doesn’t work on two levels, one knowing the secret and one not knowing the secret. 7 Pounds, for the first half of the movie, is ALL about trying to figure out what is going on. I find this kind of maddening and I got impatient with scenes that either didn’t feel like they were helping me figure out the secret or only repeated what I’d already figured out. It was like being in a math class where you already know the math but the guy in the seat next to you needs it explained a few extra times. Figuring out what Ben is going to do early in the film relieves you of that tension; you know where it’s going, so all you have to do then is watch how the writers, actors, and director make it happen.

    I think the scenes that didn’t help me figure out what was going on early in the film may be part of the reason I got bored, so I like that insight. The scenes also may not have advanced the characters or story in a way that was meaningful or made sense, especially since I didn’t know the ending. However, I don’t think knowing the ending would have made the scenes less boring.

    Recasting Ben Thomas
    What about Barry Pepper in the role? I think he could have portrayed the anguish better. Of course, he’s not as likable or charming as Smith. Still, the ability to effectively portray anguish was more critical than charm or likability (the role doesn’t superstar levels anyway). I think there are a bunch of actors that could have done it. What about Edward Norton? I think he could have been good in this. Leonardo DiCaprio? Both could bring the necessary charm and charisma to the role, too. I’m sure I could think of more actors that could have done this.

    Seven Pounds vs. What Dreams May Come
    I think one big difference is that Smith’s character is acting out of guilt, not love. Yes, he falls in love with Dawson’s character, but the sense of guilt seems to still be the overwhelming force in his decision to kill himself; after all he’s killing himself for other people besides Dawson. Also, the ending just doesn’t seem to be very redemptive for Smith’s character. He just dies without any relief from his guilt. (There could be other reasons I preferred What Dreams May Come, but I can’t remember the specific reasons.)

    Related to that is the fact that the film also leaves out a lot of details (perhaps appropriate to the film) about the psychological and emotional road Smith to make his decision. We don’t see Pepper, his close friend, or his brother, talking with him to help him or any other attempts to find healing or redemption. That may have helped me connect with the character a lot more; it may have effectively established the necessity of his decision and made the tragedy more palpable.

    But the main reason for my relatively low rating probably stems from Smith’s performance. I didn’t connect with his anguish, which was key to really liking this film. (Btw, what did you disagree with me about Smith’s performance; that he portrayed anguish adequately for you?)

    Spiritual Themes
    What did you guys think about the spiritual overtones of the film: the fact that Smith’s character was god-like in the way that he watched over his “donors” and gave them life or not; the way he sacrificed his life for others; and perhaps others? They seem a little hollow. Again, my Smith’s performance may be the main reason. Also the director doesn’t do much to establish this well.

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